The other day, I was going through a passage that said the following:
“I think people talking loudly on ‘there’ cell phones in public ought to be ‘offended’. Do they have a greater ‘rite’ to be heard in public ‘then’ others? ‘Are’ thoughts are as important as ‘there’ thoughts’.”
This type of writing was an absolute turn-off and I was suddenly completely uninterested in the article. The writer may have had some interesting thoughts throughout their paper, but the amount of grammatical errors in the introductory paragraph was a complete deterrent.
The informality that is seen in text messages and social networking comments has brought in its wake a similar informality in freelance writing as well, from fields such as marketing campaigns, to customer and employer interactions, and even in business meetings. This has resulted in poor communication and first impressions. When a freelance writer makes grammatical mistakes, it can truly detract from his/her credibility as a writer. It is an undeniable truth that people still desire excellence in the written word to maintain professional credibility and create a good overall impression. As a freelance writer, you surely cannot afford to make grammatical mistakes, form incorrect sentences, or have too many typos.
Spell Check Is Not Your Friend
You may think that Spell Check will save the day, but think again. It doesn’t always catch common grammatical errors. In fact, it can only provide you with a false sense of security, and it makes you a bit lazier while proofreading. Writers blithely overlook several glaring spelling mistakes while thinking that Spell Check is going to take care of the mess. But Spell check cannot alway come to your rescue, especially in the case of grammatical errors. On top of that, typos can ruin your writing career, since Spell Check doesn’t catch them either. Clients can be very unforgiving – after all they aren’t paying for your mistakes and gaffes.
Of course, the content is always more important than a few silly grammatical mistakes. However, the truth remains that users will not link to your blog, or subscribe to your product or services, if there are too many embarrassing mistakes in the write-ups. While writing a web article, a freelance writer must beware of the following embarrassing errors:
‘Your’ and ‘You’re’
We find this extremely common error among many freelance writings. Just think for a moment before you type the word. The word ‘your’ is a possessive pronoun such as ‘my’, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘our’, ‘their’, and ‘its’. On the other hand ‘you’re’ is a contracted form of ‘you are’. Hence, the difference between the usages of the two words is very obvious. For instance, ‘your book’, ‘your opinion’, ‘your choice’, and so on are completely different from ‘you’re really not listening to me’ or ‘you’re right’.
‘Its’ and ‘It’s’
This is another classic mistake that can really spell doom for your career as a freelance writer. There is a world of difference between the two words, with ‘its’ being a possessive pronoun, just like ‘yours’ mentioned earlier. For instance, ‘the dog chases its own tail’, whereas ‘it’s’ is a contracted form for ‘it is’. Examples of this are ‘it’s sunny today’ or ‘it’s your lookout’. Whenever in doubt regarding ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, just real aloud the words ‘it is’ in the sentence. If you feel it sounds goofy, use ‘its’.
‘Affect’ and ‘Effect’
All you need to do is to just give it a moment’s thought in order to get this one right. Though both the words are nearly similar in meaning, it can be grammatically embarrassing to use one instead of the other. Let’s try to analyze the words grammatically. We all know that nouns are persons, places, animals or things, whereas verbs are action words. Well, the word ‘effect’ is a noun and the word ‘affect’ is a verb. A verb can take the infinitive form, that is ‘to affect’ whereas a noun cannot take that form. Therefore, you cannot write ‘to effect’, but ‘to affect’ is correct. On the other hand, a noun can definitely take a definite or indefinite article, such as ‘a’ or ‘the’ before it. Hence, ‘the effect’ or ‘an effect’ is right, but ‘the affect’ is wrong because ‘affect’ is a verb and cannot take an article before it. However, the noun ‘effect’ is at times, though rarely, used as a verb, such as ‘effecting a settlement’. This usage is usually written by lawyers in their professional writings and can be generally ignored.
‘There’ and ‘Their’
This one seems to catch almost all freelance writers. Sometimes, it could also be a typographical error. However, watch out for it. ‘There’ can be an adverb, such as ‘please go there’. It can also be a pronoun, such as ‘there are several reasons for the change’. On the other hand, ‘their’ is always a possessive pronoun, like ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, ‘her’, and ‘our’. Examples of this usage are ‘these are their books’ and ‘their suggestions’. If you are talking about the plural subject’s possessions, it is surely ‘their’ that will fit the bill.
Leaving the Participle Dangling
This is another embarrassing mistake that freelance writers often make. This kind of error makes it very difficult for the reader to understand the narrative. For instance, ‘As a child, my mother took me to the zoo’. The sentence means that when your mother was a child, she took you to the zoo. It’s highly ridiculous, to say the least. The sentence should be corrected to ‘When I was a child, my mother took me to the zoo’ or by using the passive voice, ‘As a child, I was taken to the zoo by my mother’.
Here is another example: ‘Don’t sit on a chair with broken legs’. Are you talking about the person’s legs or the chair’s legs? The sentence implies that if your legs are broken, you should not sit on a chair. Another example of this is ‘After rotting in the storeroom for about three months, my brother brought me some apples’. Who was rotting in the storeroom, the apples or the brother? The sentence isn’t very clear. Don’t leave your sentences ambiguous. Present a clear meaning by placing the participle ‘rotting’ near its correct subject. So, the correct sentence would be ‘My brother brought me some apples that had been rotting in the storeroom for three months’. Another example is ‘while bathing, the shampoo bottle fell’. The participle or the opening phrase ‘while bathing’ should speak about what follows immediately. Here, the shampoo bottle follows and it seems as if the shampoo bottle was bathing and fell during the act.
‘In spite of’ and ‘Despite’
While actually these two words are interchangeable, the error could occur due to use of ‘inspite’ instead of ‘in spite of’. ‘In spite’ consists of two words and should not be joined together. On the other hand, ‘despite ‘is a single word and cannot be split. Another point to note here is that ‘in spite’ needs to be followed with the preposition ‘of’. However, ‘despite’ should not be followed with ‘of’. An example of this is ’In spite of repeated admonitions, my daughter continues to disregard my advice’. However, ‘in spite of’ equals ‘despite’. So the sentence could also be ‘Despite repeated admonitions, my daughter continues to disregard my advice’. The bottom line is keeping ‘in’ and ‘spite’ separate, and avoiding ‘of’ with ‘despite’.
‘I’ and ‘Me’
Have you ever struggled between the usage of ‘I’ and ‘me’? Is it ‘you and me’ or ‘you and I’? For instance, take the sentences ‘Francis and I saved the child’ or ‘Francis and me saved the child’. Here’s a simple trick to get this one right. Just split the sentence and use the verbs separately for both the subjects. So, ‘Francis saved the child and I/me saved the child’. Now, you will surely agree that it is ‘I saved the child’ and not ‘me saved the child’. Here’s another example: ‘Jack was chasing Jill and me/I’. Split it up as before, creating the sentences ‘Jack was chasing Jill’ and ‘Jack was chasing me/I’. It’s clear as crystal that ‘me’ is the right choice here. Here is one that is a bit trickier: ‘She is better than I/me at math’. Strictly speaking, it should be ‘She is better than I (am) at math’. Just try completing the sentence with the implied verb and you’ll steer clear of trouble.
‘Good’ and ‘Well’
Both these words have a similar meaning, but the usage is tricky. Just remember that ‘good’ is an adjective whereas ‘well’ is an adverb. When you want to describe someone or something, use ‘good’, and when you wish to describe an action or a state of being, use ‘well’. Here is an example: ‘You played well’. Since the word ‘well’ describes an action, it is used correctly.On the other hand, the sentence ‘the soup smells good’ is also correct. The word ‘good’ describes a noun, so it is used correctly.
‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
This one can throw you off the rails at times. Both are interrogative pronouns and these days we find that the pronoun ‘whom’ is slowly being relegated into oblivion and being considered obsolete. However, let’s discuss the difference here. The word ‘who’ is a subject pronoun, while ‘whom’ is an object pronoun. When the pronoun is referring to the subject or the one who performs action in the sentence, use ‘who’. If the pronoun is referring to the receiver of the action in the sentence,(that is the object) use ‘whom’.
Here is one example: ‘Who/Whom saved the princess?’
The correct answer is very obvious because the pronoun is referring to the person doing the action of saving. Hence, we need the subject pronoun ‘who’.
Here is another example: ‘Who/Whom did the prince save?’
Here, the question or pronoun is referring to the object or person saved by the prince. Hence, we need the object pronoun, ‘whom’.
‘Than’ and ‘Then’
This one is quite simple, but is is the most commonly occurring blunder. There are people who just cannot figure out the difference and are constantly confusing the two. ‘Than’ is a conjunction and is generally used for comparisons. ‘Then’ is an adverb and is used to explain what happens next, afterwards, or later.
In the sentence ‘I would rather play than/then study’, a comparison is pretty obvious, so you would be correct in writing ‘than’. In the sentence ‘I went to the movies and than/then I visited my aunt’, the correct word would be ‘then’ because it refers to a later time period.
‘Loose’ and ‘Lose’
The word ‘lose’ is the opposite of the word ‘win’. ‘Loose’ is simply the opposite of the word ‘tight’. Additionally, ‘lose’ is a verb and can be used as ‘to lose’ in the infinitive form, whereas ‘loose’ is a descriptive word and an adjective. There is no infinitive form, such as ‘to loose’.
‘Less’ and ‘Fewer’
This gaffe has got to do with countable and uncountable nouns. Nouns, such as ‘cars’, ‘books’, ‘chairs’, and ‘fans’, are countable and take the adjective ‘fewer’. Nouns, such as ‘air’, ‘water’, ‘milk’, ‘information’, ‘news’, ‘furniture’, ‘oxygen’, ‘gold’, and ‘wood’, are uncountable and take the adjective ‘less’. In the sentence ‘There are fewer/less employees in the office today’, the word ‘fewer’ is correct because the number of employees can be counted.
In the sentence, ‘There is less gold in the market these days’, less is correct.
Here, you could also consider other similar mix-ups, such as ‘little’ and ‘few’, ‘much’ and ‘many’, and so on. The adjective ‘little’ is used for uncountable nouns and the adjective ‘few’ for countable nouns. Similarly, the adjective ‘much’ is used for uncountable nouns and ‘many’ is used to qualify countable nouns. Hence, we have ‘many tables’, ‘many books’, and ‘many chairs’, and so on. And we have ‘much information’, ‘much air’, ‘much water’, and so on.
‘Is’ and ‘Are’
This is also an obvious error. Consider this sentence, ‘There’s a lot of new people that I want you to meet’. The misuse of ‘is’ and ‘are’ makes you cringe every time you hear it. ‘A lot of’ implies a plural noun and not a singular noun, so the obvious verb to use would be ‘are’ and not ‘is’. The corrected sentence would be ‘There are a lot of people I want you to meet’.
Consider this sentence in an instruction booklet: ‘Dying at home can be messy, so just make sure to wear gloves’. This instruction booklet is about coloring your hair at home, and it appeared in a women’s magazine. ‘Dying’ relates to death, and the participle for the verb ‘dye’ is ‘dyeing’, not ‘dying’.
‘Disparate’ and ‘Desperate’
‘Disparate’ comes from the root word ‘parity’ that means sameness or equality. Hence, ‘disparity’ would imply that something is unequal. The two answers are ‘disparate’ (not ‘desperate’). It simply means that they are not equal are or not matching with each other. ‘Desperate’ means the person is at the end of his wits and is short on options. You could say, ‘I was desperately on the lookout for somebody to replace the sick player on the team’. It shows the person is worried, frantic, and is in need of something.
Even punctuations can make a huge difference in a sentence. An example of this is:
‘The greatest influences in his life have been his sisters, Oprah and Madonna’, or ‘The greatest influences in his life have been his sisters, Oprah, and Madonna’.
The first sentence means that Oprah and Madonna are his sisters, whereas the second one means that he has been influenced by his sisters, as well as by Oprah and Madonna, which are completely separate terms.
There seems to be an epidemic of grammatical errors and gaffes in newspaper and online articles, despite the material being proofread and spell-checked. However, there is still hope for freelance writers. Texting and social networking sites are being blamed for the brevity and language shortcuts that we see these days. Looseness in language can present a pathetic image of the freelance writer, as well as the client. Look through the tips I’ve mentioned above and your writings will hopefully be less riddled with embarrassing mistakes.
Instead of going into long winding explanations, just ask yourself short questions about grammatical errors, or just consider another example. If you are torn between two words, you must know there’s no easy fix. Of course, all said and done, the freelance writer can never be too careful while writing and is sure to goof up somewhere. Nevertheless, take heart and be sure to double-check and proofread your writing. Then say a quick and fervent prayer before you hit the submit button. And, last (but not least), stop relying on your not-so-best friend, Spell Check, to bail you out. Rests assured, and know that it will not help you out.
Image Credits – My Shame